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News Release

Utah Department of Natural Resources Partners with USDA for State’s Watershed Restoration Initiative

Sheeprocks Area in Tooele County Focal Point of Multi-year Restoration Effort; Nearly $1 million in Funding Committed by USDA this Year

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Agency Media Contacts
Nathan Schwebach, DNR, 801-440-9094, nathanschwebach@utah.gov
Reynaldo Leal, NRCS, 801-524-4557, reynaldo.leal@ut.usda.gov
Loyal Clark, Forest Service, 801-310-3633, lfclark@fs.fed.us
Lola Bird, BLM, 801-539-4033, lbird@blm.gov

Salt Lake City, UT (April 21, 2016) -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), through its Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), recently allocated nearly $1 million for conservation projects in Utah. The Utah Department of Natural Resources (DNR), in coordination with 14 other partners, will use the grant to continue a multi-year effort through Utah’s Watershed Restoration Initiative (WRI) for sage-grouse habitat restoration in and around the Sheeprocks area of Tooele County.

“The Regional Conservation Partnership Program puts our local partners in the driver’s seat to accomplish environmental goals that are most meaningful to communities in Utah,” said Dave Brown, NRCS state conservationist in Utah. “We’re proud to partner with DNR on a project that will help both sage grouse and the ranchers of Tooele County.”

RCPP-SHEEPROCKS-001USDA selects RCPP projects on a competitive basis, and draws on local knowledge and networks to fuel innovative conservation projects. Since its start in 2014, RCPP projects in Utah have included catastrophic fire prevention with the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands ($500,000), and stream restoration and irrigation efficiency on the Upper Bear River with Trout Unlimited ($200,000).

DNR’s Watershed Restoration Initiative is a partnership-based program in Utah designed to improve high priority watersheds throughout the state. The program has successfully restored and rehabilitated 1.2 million acres statewide since its launch in 2006. Nearly 100 federal, state, county, local, private and nongovernment groups and organizations contribute to the program on an ongoing basis.

WRI is committed to removing invasive plant species that damage watersheds and replace them with native grass and plants that are good for Utah. The program focuses on three core ecosystem values, including land health and biological diversity; water quality and yield and opportunities for sustainable uses of natural resources.

“Significant work has taken place in the Sheeprocks area and the additional funding provided through RCPP and all WRI partners will enable that work to continue,” said DNR Executive Director Mike Styler. “Through the coordinated efforts of this initiative we’re able to improve high priority watershed throughout the state, which has significant benefits to communities as it helps us secure more water, prevent catastrophic wildfire and increases habitat for wildlife populations and forage for sustainable agriculture.”

To prevent sage-grouse from becoming listed under the Endangered Species Act, Utah adopted a Greater Sage-grouse Conservation Plan. The plan emphasizes habitat restoration on state, private and federal lands within areas identified as Sage-grouse Management Areas (SGMAs). Eleven of the twelve SGMAs in Utah have an increasing population trend over the last three years; however, the Sheeprocks SGMA has decreased to a critically low population level. In the Sheeprocks, the joint RCPP and WRI project will focus on combating pinyon-juniper encroachment and preventing catastrophic fires – major causes for the decline of sage-grouse in the area.

Sheeprocks Restoration Efforts

Objectives for RCPP grant over the next 5 years include the following:

  • Improve over 17,000 acres of sage-grouse and other wildlife habitat by reducing pinyon-juniper encroachment, weed invasion and the risk of  catastrophic fire
  • Create fuel breaks/green strips to protect sagebrush ecosystem

Past work in the Sheeprocks area include the following:

  • In the last three years, six large scale fires have burned in the area.  Fire rehabilitation has occurred on over 16,000 acres of these burned areas.
  • Since 2006, an additional 77,000 acres of habitat and watershed improvement were completed.

Long-term WRI planning includes the following:

  • Complete 8,000 to 10,000 acres of habitat and watershed improvement annually.  At this rate it will take about 15 years to complete improvements on the land that we have identified as priority habitat for sage-grouse and other wildlife.

 

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